Parents everywhere need to thank and support Anita Sarkeesian

Do you know who Anita Sarkeesian is?

She is a freedom-fighter cyber warrior, working every day to protect your child’s imagination, and because of her courageous acts, her life is in danger.

Sarkeesian is a fan of video games. She has been since she was a child. She has always lamented the lack of female protagonists in games, the repetition of the trope of damsel in distress, and the prevalence of the sexualization and violence against women in games. Sarkeesisan has created several videos exploring these damaging tropes throughout the history of gaming. She wants more creative narratives where females get to play heroes. For pointing out this sexism and for imagining gender equality in the gaming world, Sarkeesian’s has received numerous threats of violence. Yesterday, for the first time, she cancelled a speech. The New York Times reports:

Not until Tuesday, though, did Ms. Sarkeesian feel compelled to cancel a speech, planned at Utah State University. The day before, members of the university administration received an email warning that a shooting massacre would be carried out at the event. And under Utah law, she was told, the campus police could not prevent people with weapons from entering her talk.

“This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” said the email, which bore the moniker Marc Lépine, the name of a man who killed 14 women in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989 before taking his own life.

Of her decision to cancel, Sarkeesian Tweets:

To be clear: I didn’t cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate.


Sarkeesian cancelled because the university and the police refused to screen for weapons.

Peggy Orenstein posts on her Facebok page:

I am absolutely sickened by what is happening to Anita Sarkeesian. Every person of conscience should speak out against this–ESPECIALLY men and gamers!

Please speak out for Sarkeesian. Share her story and state your support.



Fall Movie Preview: Insidious misogyny in ‘Gone Girl’

I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl,” and neither have you as it’s hitting theaters on October 3, though I did read the book this summer. I was horrified by the misogyny woven through the narrative. Perhaps I was so surprised by the sexism because the only controversy I’d heard of before I read the book was that people didn’t like the ending. I did like the ending. I’ll tell you why, and also go into the plot points of “Gone Girl” but before I do, consider yourself warned: spoilers will be in this post. If you’re going to read Gone Girl— and it is, like so many sexist books I critique, well written and well plotted, I’m talking about technique here– you may not want to proceed much further, except, perhaps, to take a look at this cover of Entertainment Weekly. There you see Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl,” shown as a “beautiful” female corpse, a trope Anita Sarkeesian dissects in her latest video: Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This image of the dead, sexualized female body is, quite literally, everywhere in popular culture. After you check out this cover, I want you to know just one more thing.


My final comment to those who don’t want spoilers: I have absolutely no problem with women not being “likeable” characters. I want that. I was so excited when I read the comment by the excellent writer Claire Messud who, when asked about her protagonist by Publisher’s Weekly (I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim”) responded:

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”


Get that, people? Is this character alive?

OK, moving on to spoilers, if you don’t want them, it’s time to leave.

It turns out that the protagonist of Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played in the movie by Rosemund Pike) fakes her own rape, pregnancy, stalking, beatings, and murder. That’s right, Amy goes through a veritable list of practically every act/ crime that a wicked and conniving (are men ever conniving?) woman can manipulate. While Amy fakes her victimhood, her husband, Nick, played in the movie by Ben Affleck, is falsely accused of killing his pregnant wife. Why, you ask, is Amy motivated to be so awful? She’s a woman scorned, of course, who discovered her husband’s affair with his student.

Here’s one passage describing Amy’s fakery:

I took a wine bottle, and I abused myself with it every day, so the inside of my vagina looked…right. Right for a rape victim. Then today I let him have sex with me so I had his semen…

That particular scene, by the way, refers to another man Amy is setting up, not her husband.

Here’s the problem, and once again, it’s not that Amy is a villain or unlikeable.

In the USA 20 percent of women, 1 in 5, report experiencing rape or attempted rape. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As for false accusations of rape, the FBI estimates that 1-2 percent of claims are fake. Here’s another important fact about false accusation: A 2002 survey of male and female college students shows that they believe a woman lies in 50 percent of reported rape cases. “Gone Girl” perpetuates the popular narrative that rape isn’t real and isn’t happening, that women lie, and falsely accused men are the real victims.

But Gone Girl is fiction not fact, you say. Why am I listing stats here? Am I trying, once again, to censor artists with my PC beliefs? Surely Amy’s story can fall into the 1- 2% of women who falsely accuse men of rape. This is a free country.

This is also a country where Washington Post columnist George Will, a man known as the “most powerful journalist in America” recently wrote that being a rape survivor is “a coveted status.” When others challenged Will that rape is not, in fact, something women want, the conservative group, Women’s Independent Forum called a conference “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault,” putting out this press release:

The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?

Lucky for us, Gone Girl answers every single one of the IWF’s (hysterical) questions: Where does it come from? In Gone Girl, overachieving Harvard grad, Amy Dunne, was used but never truly loved by her egotistical writer parents. They penned a best-selling YA series based on their daughter. Where is it going? Female anger and, yes, hysteria, not to mention jealousy, vindictiveness, and aging, leads to violence. Who will be harmed? Nick, of course, innocent men in America who are falsely accused, lied to, manipulated, and victimized by the scorned, bitter women in their lives.

Yes, Of course Gillian Flynn can write about whatever she pleases, but I find it sadly ironic that when I argue for more diverse stories to permeate our popular culture, a culture where people believe that 50% of rape accusations are false, a culture where stories of rape remain secret to the point that the media hides names and identities of survivors, a media dominated by the same old trope ridden narrative, that I am the one who’s accused of stifling creativity. Gone Girl is a best-selling book about to be blockbuster movie that will help to perpetuate  the myth/ story that rape and violence against women is not epidemic but mostly exists in our imagination.

By the way, the end of the book, you know why people don’t like it? Because Amy ends up OK. She and Nick get back together, they’re going to have a baby. (Pregnant for real this time, she stole his sperm.) Apparently, the no punishment-for-Amy-finale is so unpopular that the director changed the ending to make it more of crowdpleaser.

I’ll leave you with some facts about domestic violence in the USA from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.


85% of domestic violence victims are women.


Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.


Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.


Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.


On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.


 Reel Girl rates Gone Girl ***SSS*** for gender stereotyping

After I read Gone Girl, I searched the internet about the book’s misogyny, here are some interesting posts


The Misogynistic Portrayal of Villainy in Gone Girl

Is GONE GIRL a Misogynist Novel?

Damsel in distress in ‘Legend of Zelda’ irritates my 5 yr old daughter

My three kids see the Mario Brothers everywhere, but I dislike this pair of brothers for  obvious reasons (but pointed out so well by Anita Sarkeseesian in this video about the perpetual damsel in distress trope played by Princess Peach.) Last night, I decided to let my kids try the also highly advertised  “Legend of Zelda.” Both shows/ games are created by the same guy, Shigeru Miyamoto, and often appear together in marketing. Today, while I was making dinner, my 5 year old daughter went on rant about how disappointing “Zelda” was for her. One reason I created Reel Girl, to rate kids’ media for girl empowerment, is because titles can be so misleading to parents. I’m posting this video so that you can be more informed than I was. I’m listening to my daughter and staying away from “Legend of Zelda.” I hope you do too.

Just looked it up, here’s the diamond she’s talking about:


Reel Girl rates Legend of Zelda ***SS***

How would female characters look if they weren’t pushed to periphery?

For thousands of years, in narratives females have been sidelined and marginalized. How would female characters look if they didn’t have a long history of being cast in the supporting roles? The minimal thing we should all be able to agree on is that we don’t know for sure.

I added Anita Sarkeesian’s latest video, Ms. Male, to my last post, but it’s so great that it deserves it’s own post. Check out the whole video, this is just one part of her message. Here’s how Ms. Pac-Man looks in games our children play.


Sarkeesian points out:

 Because we live in a strongly male-identified society the idea of a Pac-Woman as the “unmarked” default and a Mr. Pac-Woman as the deviation “marked” with masculinizing gender signifiers feels strange and downright absurd. Meanwhile Pac-man and the deviation Ms. Pac-Man seems completely normal in our current cultural context.


Here’s how the game might look if male characters were always on the periphery.


This same gender dynamic manifests in movies, TV, games, toys, and apps made for children. What are we teaching a new generation about who boys and girls really are?

Do Reel Girl’s posts on Goldie Blox ‘denigrate femininity?’

I’ve gotten all kinds of negative comments in response to my post that the viral Goldie Blox ad is selling a message that’s different than its product. Here’s one that a commenter writes is from Goldie Blox. I don’t know if the Goldie Blox comment quoted is in response to my blog or another one.

“And here is GoldieBlox’s response to the backlash: “Yes, we’ve seen this blog post, and the author raises a lot of great points. We’re sorry she feels that Goldie’s a waste of money, but totally understand where she’s coming from.We don’t have a problem with princesses being AN option, as long as they aren’t the ONLY option. Many girls really enjoy princesses, ballet, and pink, and there’s nothing wrong with that! STEM fields denigrate femininity enough as is; girls who enjoy girly stuff are just as capable of building a catapult and launching their younger siblings into the next yard as girls who don’t enjoy girly stuff.As for the toy itself, sure, it’s a “princess toy” in that there is a princess in it. In Goldieblox and the Parade Float, Ruby, Goldie’s best friend, teaches her friends that creativity and friendship matter more than any pageant. We think that’s a pretty good lesson for any kid.”


First of all, who says pink and princess is feminine? Do you realize how many assumptions you have to buy into to even make that argument? Pink wasn’t even a “girl” color until the last century. It was a boy color, a version of red. Blue, in honor of the Virgin Mary, was considered a girl color. Children weren’t even color-coded before the early twentieth century. Before that, babies wore white, because to get clothing clean, it had to be boiled. Take a look at President Roosevelt.


The fact that we all think, including our poor kids, that pink is coded in female genes and a “girl” color shows the incredible influence of marketing in 2013.

Anita Sarkeesian highlights our 2013 gender assumptions in her “Ms. Male” video. Here’s how Ms. Pac-Man looks in games our children play. Nice and feminine,” right?


Sarkeesian writes:

 Because we live in a strongly male-identified society the idea of a Pac-Woman as the “unmarked” default and a Mr. Pac-Woman as the deviation “marked” with masculinizing gender signifiers feels strange and downright absurd. Meanwhile Pac-man and the deviation Ms. Pac-Man seems completely normal in our current cultural context.


Here’s how the game might look if male characters were always on the periphery.


As far as a princess friend being “an option,” I did think when I saw and supported the Kickstarter campaign, and again, maybe I was wrong in my assumption, but I believed that Goldie Blox, itself, was providing the other options. I thought Goldie Blox was the other option! Goldie Blox sells itself as “disrupting the pink aisle,” not to mention the message in the viral ad. The market is completely saturated with princesses who wear puffy dresses and compete in pageants, to the point that toys who were not princesses, like Dora or Strawberry Shortcake, get princessy makeovers.

Here’s another comment on Reel Girl’s Facebook page from the same person as the one above.

It’s a real pity that it has come to this, but I can’t stand for this aggression that you are exhibiting to Goldieblox and anyone who dare to utter “princess”. Princesses are Queens in training – getting ready to one day rule the world.

It is sad that you are using your influence to attack people and products who are technically on your side of the girl empowerment movement. The only way change can be made is through co-operation and support. You are not an example of that. I would wish you “good luck”, but really I don’t. Divisive people are not good people to have in the Feminist movement. I hope one day you will learn the tolerance you so vehemently demand.

The issue is not that I condemn anyone “who dare utter princess.” I recommend princess narratives on Reel Girl including “Brave” and “A Little Princess.” The Middle Grade book I am writing has a princess protagonist in that she is heir to the throne. Here’s a princess narrative, “Child of Light” by Ubisoft, a role playing game due for release in 2014, that gives me chills,.

The Goldie Blox princess, her image and story, leave me cold.

Other commenters write Goldie, herself, is not the princess, she’s just friends with the princess who she is trying to help to win the pageant. Again, that narrative doesn’t excite my imagination or appeal to me. If it appeals to you, go ahead and buy the toy.

Girls Gone Missing in Gaming: What happened to Krystal?

Feminist Frequency has created an excellent must-watch video on the lack of strong, female characters in gaming, specifically the “damsel in distress” trope. The video begins with the story of Krystal, the fierce and magical protagonist of the game Dinosaur Planet.

The narrator of the video, Anita Sarkeesian, describes Krystal as she was originally meant to be:

The game was to star a 16 year old hero named Krystal as one of two playable protagonists. She was tasked with traveling through time, fighting prehistoric monsters with her magical staff, and saving the world. She was strong, she was capable, and she was heroic.

But as development neared completion, the strategy for the game changed. It was rewritten and redesigned, released in 2002 as StarFox Adventures for the GameCube. Sarkeesian describes the new incarnation:

Krystal has been transformed into a damsel in distress and spends the vast majority of the game trapped inside a crystal prison waiting to be rescued by the new hero, Fox McCloud. The in game action scenes that were originally built for Krystal were converted to feature Fox instead. Crystal is given a skimpier, more sexualized outfit.


Here’s the new Krystal.


Sarkeesian continues:


The tale of how Krystal went from protagonist of her own epic adventure to the passive victim in someone else’s game illustrates how the damsel in distress trope disempowers female characters and robs them of the chance to be heroes in their own right.

Watching what happened to Krystal on a few minutes of video, I felt like I was watching what’s happened to women throughout history; we’re minor characters in a story that someone else has written. Sarkeesian says: “I’ve heard it said that ‘In the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.’ ”

Here’s how the video goes on to describe the “damsel in distress” trope that dominates our cultural mythology:

The Damsel in Distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must be rescued by a male character, usually providing the core incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest.

Think about how the weak and passive female is so intricately built into our cultural narrative. She’s in stories we’ve heard from birth, from Greek mythology to the Bible to Hollywood. She’s in the books and films that win our highest awards and accolades.

Because the human brain put events into context in order to understand them, this repetitive narrative gets embedded into our minds. If this trope were just one story of many, there would be no issue. It’s the constant repetition, the ubiquity of this story line, especially in the fantasy world marketed to children, that’s so alarming. Girls and boys don’t get to see females act, make important choices, take healthy risks, and become leaders. This sexist narrative affects who we are, how we see each other, and who we become.

This video from Feminist Frequency shows you what happens when a character tries to break free of this restrictive narrative. She’s put right back into her crystal prison. How is Krystal going to get out of there when the guy who’s supposedly rescuing her is the problem? There’s only one way she can break free. She must write her own story.

Here’s the video:

You can read the transcript here.

Update: While making this video, Sarkeesian was the subject of a brutal and organized harassment campaign. On Feminist Frequency, she blogged:

In addition to the aggressive actions against me that I’ve already shared, the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported my Twitter and YouTube accounts as “terrorism”, “hate speech” or “spam”. They also attempted to “dox” and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).

Thank you, Sarkeesian, for having the courage to tell your story while people kept trying to shut you up. We all really need to hear it.

Another cool thing Sarkeesian did: she begun her video with this quote:

This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.


She likes games, got it? She likes to play them. She doesn’t want them to be sexist. She wants strong female protagonists. It’s not that fun attacking loveable characters who make up the fabric of America. And guess what? You can be a fan of “Ratatouille” and still be disheartened and discouraged that it’s yet another kids movie where females go missing. Unless we want to live on an island or a mountain top, this is the world we exist in, so stop telling women to shut up or get out already. Attempting to silence female voices– in games, movies, videos, or on the internet– won’t work anyway, because we won’t stop telling our own stories. That’s just human nature.

Update: My six year old daughter watched this video and totally ‘got it.’ Obviously, I’ve talked to her a lot about media literacy, but it was great to have her see this POV coming from someone other than her mom. This video is a great educational tool, and I hope that you show it to your kids.